Being Still

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Benson and his mother were eating breakfast, and Aunt Lillibet came into the kitchen to make a cup of camomile tea. “I’ve got such a headache,” she said. “I’m just going to sit quietly and drink my tea.”

She went and sat in the lounge-room and leaned back and closed her eyes. In a minute, she opened them again and said, “Benson, do you have to crunch your toast so loudly?”

Benson thought about it. “I think so,” he said. “Toast is noisy stuff.” He finished his toast and got an apple out of the fruit bowl. He took a big bite. It was very crisp and juicy.

Aunt Lillibet groaned loudly.

His mother said, “Benson, it might be a good idea to finish your breakfast outside.”

Benson took his apple outside and crunched it as loudly as he liked. When he came in again, Aunt Lillibet complained, “Benson, must you slam the door every time you come in?”

“No,” Benson said. “Sometimes I just bang it.” He banged the door to show her. Aunt Lillibet groaned.

He went over to the kitchen, and Aunt Lillibet said, “Do you have to stamp so loudly when you walk?”

Benson tiptoed across the floor. “Sorry, Aunt Lillibet,” he said.

“You don’t have to shout!” she said.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

His mother said quietly, “Why don’t you go and do something quiet in your room, like reading, or drawing?”

Benson tiptoed into his room. He got his pencils and he started to draw a family of armadillos in a fire truck. His black pencil rolled off the table and slid under the bed. He crawled under his bed to get it, but his bottom accidentally bumped his shelf, and everything fell off with a loud crash.

“Benson!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.

“Sorry!” he shouted back, then he remembered and whispered, “Sorry!” in a tiny voice. He decided to read his book instead. It was a story about some ducks and a cow and a lazy farmer. Benson thought it was very funny.

He wasn’t even up to the end when Aunt Lillibet yelled, “Benson! Do you have to laugh so loudly? It’s impossible to get any peace around here!”

Benson’s mother said, “Is your headache still bad, Lillibet?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It doesn’t help that I live with the noisiest young wombat on the planet!”

“I think Benson and I might go out for a walk until you’re feeling better,” Benson’s mother said. She and Benson got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off. Benson banged the door, but then he remembered, and he went back and closed it again, much more quietly.

They walked along through the bush, and Benson told his mother all about the book he was reading, and the drawing he was drawing, with the armadillos all in a row on the fire-truck ladder, eating their ice-creams.

After a while, his mother said, “Stop!”

Benson stopped. “What is it, a snake?” he said.

“No, I just mean stop talking,” his mother said. “You haven’t stopped talking since we left home, even for a minute.”

“I thought you liked me talking to you?” he said.

“Of course I love listening to you,” his mother said, “but if you’re always talking, you’re not doing very much listening, and you miss other things around you.”

“Things like what?” Benson asked.

His mother said, “All sorts of things. Just stand still for a minute, and listen.” Benson listened, but he couldn’t hear anything. He opened his mouth to tell his mother, but before he could say anything, she said, “Don’t tell me you can’t hear anything, just listen!”

Benson listened. All he could hear was himself breathing, Then he heard a bird call. He listened, and he heard another bird answer. Then the first bird called again. Another little bird was chirping quietly, and far away he could hear a cockatoo squawking. There were some butcherbirds talking at the top of a tree, and in the distance, he could hear some magpies practising their singing.

The more he listened, the more he could hear. Before long, he began to think there must be hundreds of birds in the bush around them, chattering and chirping and singing.

There was a sudden loud crack, right beside them. “That was a whip-bird,” his mother said quietly. They stood very still, and a big, dark green bird came up and looked at them. Then it flew away again.

“Do you hear that noise like a rusty hinge?” his mother said. “That’s a gang-gang cockatoo, and that ‘chack-chack’ sound is those two king parrots, in the tree over there.” Benson followed the sound and saw two beautiful bright red and green birds chatting to each other on a high branch. Then a big flock of lorikeets flew into the trees overhead and they couldn’t hear anything except their noisy chatter.

“All these birds,” Benson said, “all doing their own bird things, and living their bird lives, talking to each other and singing – they’re being so noisy, they probably don’t even know I’m here.”

“Not if you’re being still and quiet,” his mother agreed. “Sometimes I think we can be a bit like the lorikeets. I don’t think they even listen to each other. They just talk over each other, and get louder and louder and louder.”

When it was time to go home for lunch. Benson remembered to open the door quietly so as not to disturb Aunt Lillibet, but she opened her eyes when he dropped his water-bottle and it bounced across the kitchen floor.

“I’m never going to get any peace,” she groaned. “I think I’ll go outside, away from all this hullabaloo!”

Benson went to his mother’s room and came back with her pink, fluffy ear muffs. “Here,” he said, giving them to Aunt Lillibet. “You’ll need these if you’re going outside. You wouldn’t believe how noisy it is out there!”

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